GUEST POST – teachergirl73
To mark the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s works, there are several authors that have been committed to paying tribute to her stories. I was lucky enough in the fall of 2013 to attend a Q&A for the novel “Longbourn” by Jo Baker, following a special screening of Joe Wright’s production of “Pride and Prejudice” which was the setting used for her novel. Longbourn follows the story of Pride and Prejudice from the viewpoint of the servants living in the Bennett household. It was an excellent read, and my review can be found here at Penny Dreadful Book Reviews.
A few months after reading Longbourn, I stumbled onto “The Austen Project”, where I discovered the plan to re-write several of Austen’s novels with a modern twist (http://theaustenproject.com/). The first re-imagining of Austen’s stories is Joanna Trollope’s version of Sense and Sensibility.
Trollope’s modernization of Sense and Sensibility places the women of the Dashwood family in the present day, living in their beloved Norland Park, a beautiful old Georgian manor estate in Sussex. Elinor, Marianne, Margaret and their mother Belle, are left homeless and almost penniless at the death of their father Henry. The girls’ half brother John, and his most unlikeable wife Fanny, force the ladies out of the only home that they have ever known as they claim John’s rightful inheritance as the first-born son.
The world is looking very bleak for the Dashwood women, when they are suddenly rescued by the charity of a distant relative. This long-lost connection is revived thanks to Edward Ferrars, who happens to be Fanny’s much nicer brother. It is clear that all the Dashwood ladies like Edward, but it is Elinor, the eldest daughter, who seems to have Edward’s eye and vice versa. But the main theme of this story is that “nothing is as it seems“, and the road to happiness is not easy for any of the ladies.
As I read Trollope’s version of Sense and Sensibility, I was reminded of why I try to avoid this story. I have read and watched various versions of Pride and Prejudice, Persuasion and Emma over and over again through the years, enjoying every interpretation that I have seen. Sense and Sensibility, however, might be the one Austen story that I never want to read or watch on the big screen again. The women are all victims, from the beginning until the end, and that is something that I just cannot digest as a reader.
Unfortunately, Trollope’s version did not help my issues with the Dashwood sisters, with Elinor playing the perpetual doormat, while her younger sisters Marianne and Margaret behave in spoiled and over-indulged manner. Even their mother, Belle, would rather keep her head in the sand rather than take charge of their unfortunate situation.
In my opinion, the Dashwood sisters do not hold a candle to the Bennet girls from “Pride and Prejudice”. I believe that even Emma Woodhouse, the main character from Austen’s “Emma”, who despite being a much indulged young lady by her widowed father, she is still a far more likeable character.
As I have never read anything from Joanna Trollope before, I’m not sure if this novel is typical of her writing style, but I don’t think that I’ll go seek out another by her. There were many points throughout the book that I found the writing to be choppy and disjointed. Her decision to have Belle’s daughters refer to her as “Ma” certainly doesn’t seem to ring true for a well-born English family, especially one set in present day. I was half-expecting the cast of Little House on the Prairie to step into the scene every time the girls called “Ma!”. Unfortunately, my expectations for this novel were far higher than perhaps they should have been.
I am still looking forward to reading the rest of the novels from “The Austen Project”, with Val McDermid’s modern day version of “Northanger Abbey” in the waiting in the queue of my TBR list. I feel like it might be a better fit for my personality 🙂
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joanna Trollope was born on 9 December 1943 in her grandfather’s rectory in Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire, England, daughter of Rosemary Hodson and Arthur George Cecil Trollope. She is the eldest of three siblings. She is a fifth-generation niece of the Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope and is a cousin of the writer and broadcaster James Trollope. She was educated at Reigate County School for Girls followed by St Hugh’s College, Oxford.
From 1965 to 1967, she worked at the Foreign Office. From 1967 to 1979, she was employed in a number of teaching posts before she became a writer full-time in 1980. Her novel Parson Harding’s Daughter won in 1980 the Romantic Novel of the Year Award by the Romantic Novelists’ Association.